For horror movies fans, Video On Demand has become something of a godsend. So many titles appear through VOD that simply will not get wide theatrical distribution. Three that are currently available push the envelope of what the genre can be, and they deliver the scares that horror fans crave.
“Lucky Bastard” (4 out of 5 stars)
This one warranted an NC-17 rating by the MPAA due to its adult film world backdrop. “Lucky Bastard” is a “found footage” thriller about a porn website shoot gone horribly awry. Veteran character actor Don McManus plays Mike, a cynical producer who hires an eager fan – the ‘lucky bastard’ - to have sex on camera with one of his star performers. Her name is Ashley Saint (Betsy Rue, doing a great combination of sweet and sour) and she’s weary but game. Unfortunately, Dave (Jay Paulson) is a fan who lacks control and ruins the shoot. Taunted by Mike and his crew, Dave grows more and more angry until his furor bursts into violence.
What makes this exceptionally good is two-fold. First, director Robert Nathan and co-screenwriter Lukas Kendall have dutifully studied both the genre of adult movies and horror films. They exhibit a keen sense of how the sex industry works, as well as what makes for great scares. And their ‘found footage’ sensibilities are superb. The shoot in their story takes place in a house used for reality shows so they can justify a camera or two in every room. Thus, the constant filming is believable and never too self-conscious.
The sexual acts are simulated, but there is nudity and a lot of dirty dialogue. However, if that kind of thing doesn’t offend you, “Lucky Bastard” is worth seeking out. It’s an exceedingly well-done little thriller, even when it becomes rather predictable in its final 15 minutes. It’s a smart film well acted by all, particularly McManus, who is always good. And it's very discreet when in it comes to showing its nudity and even its violence. Director Nathan knows that psychological terror trumps blood and gore every time. It’s a lesson a lot of young horror directors could stand to learn in the business.
“Cheap Thrills” (4 out of 5 stars)
Another small chamber piece with big boos is “Cheap Thrills”. It concerns a scheming couple putting a down-on-his-luck nerd and his old high school buddy through the wringer with their twisted games. Craig (Pat Healy) is having a terrible day when he stumbles into a bar for a drink after losing his job. He runs into his ne’er-do-well buddy Vince (Ethan Embry) from his teenage years and they have a few too many as they reminisce about all that’s gone wrong in their lives. Then a rich eccentric and his stunning wife chat them up and start offering them easy money for silly stunts like slapping the waitress on the butt.
The stunts and the money stakes rise as Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) up the ante when they take the two back to their home. Pretty soon, Craig and Vince are doing everything from breaking and entering into a neighboring home to cutting off body parts for cash. The horror here comes in the form of multiple green monsters, the kind with President’s faces on them. Greed and desperation drive these two men to extremes and part of the fun of watching this horror movie is in seeing just how far the story will go. Believe me, it goes there! Director E.L. Katz does an amazing job of ratcheting up the tension with each subsequent minute, making everything from dog poo to unprotected sex appear fraught with danger and ominous possibilities. And the exceedingly nasty and clever script by Trent Haaga and David Chirchirillo exposes the evil that exists in both protagonist and antagonist when wads of free cash are at stake.
This four-hander is acted with great skill. Ethan Embry (http://imdb.to/1kM7TnB) has become one of the most interesting character actors working today. Pat Healy makes you feel every agonizing decision he makes on his way to redemption. And David Koechner and Sara Paxton perform miracles with their villainous roles. By the end, I liked them more than their victims. Is that wrong?
“Stage Fright” (3 out of 5 stars)
There are few really good horror comedies done these days, but Jerome Sable has written and directed a cheeky entry about a musical theater camp terrorized by a masked killer. One can imagine the movie’s pitch - “Friday the 13th meets Glee!” And this shocker finds lots of laughs as it riffs on privileged kids putting on a show for their rich parents.
It owes a lot to “The Phantom of the Opera”, and even Brian De Palma’s “Phantom of the Paradise” (http://imdb.to/1nvjHOI) as its spoofs a lurking madman causing murder and mayhem from the wings of a theater. And it’s all put to song, with a few clever ditties written by Sable and Eli Batalion.
Minnie Driver and Meatloaf (Now there’s a marquee combination!) are the stars of this film, but it’s really the kids who take center stage. The casting of these young actors is something truly special, as they have to act like spoiled brats, but also exhibit savvy theatrical instincts that are wise beyond their years. And the youngsters have to register fright when the thrills and chills start piling up too.
Ultimately, this one could be a little scarier. The laughs outweigh the scares, but it’s still a mindful work, one that certainly deserves kudos for its ability to wring dark laughs out of kids in peril. If the egotistical Rachel (Lea Michele) drives you mad on “Glee”, this is the revenge fantasy for you!
Horror films from foreign countries frequently show up on VOD as well. The Australian production “Wolf Creek 2”, a sequel to the superior first “Wolf Creek”, has some good scares in it. And the success of the new “Godzilla” has unleashed a reissue of similar movies from the Japanese vault of horror into the VOD landscape. You can even find the 1998 American version of "Godzilla" starring Matthew Broderick making the rounds again. But for the best currently on VOD, you’d be wise to check out one of the three newer films I showcased above. I think you'll be delighted as you spend time on the edge of your couch.